Coming Out & the Folly of Saneism

Last night I noticed I am plural, many, more than one, the “multiple personalities” label hangs on. I always have been. But it’s not the version where a quirky youngster is sent to the shrink for a diagnosis. Nor am I a distressed adult incarcerated in a hospital. I’m 46 and free. Thickly masked until now. Like a closeted queer, I learned early to hide. My parents locked up people like me. No kidding. I was aware of that from a very young age. I built a complex mask that deceived everyone, including myself (selves? — I’m just figuring this out).

Don’t worry for Us. We are an old hand at coming “out”. We’re trans, Autistic, ADHD, a CSA survivor. I’ve been in this lucid moment before: like Neo first seeing the Matrix, cascades of experience are tumbling through me, body and mind, reformatting in the language of my system. All the times I woke up mid-conversation with no idea what had been — I logged them at the time with shame and whipped on a mask. Right now I’m remembering and refiling with relief. I recall bursting out of my chair with energy and direction that came from nowhere. Not a skerrick of a clue. I saved those memories with confusion and self-hatred. Now I recognise that was another me, and I feel intense gratitude (they were protecting me!). And other confusing facts like my many and distinct handwriting styles, which was an “inconsistency” I tried to hide from my parents and teachers. Lol. Holy fuck. I love you, little me.

I’m feeling more than relief. Also in equal measure I am mourning and angry. Mourning for little me (little until 46). Anger at the normativity that insisted I hide this. And of course relief to have myselves at last. During other episodes, when I was less practised, I was overwhelmed by this complex grief. Now I have it in hand. We do.

What is outrageous is not that We contain many parts, but that our culture insists We mustn’t. Just ask Richard Schwartz. His baby, Internal Family Systems, is a framework in psychotherapy which allows us to admit we are more than one. By talking to and about our “parts”, people can welcome parts of their psyche back to the table. Creatures we became to keep ourselves safe are creatures that we dismissed at later dates. Those parts don’t vanish, however, they stay within us, ready to come to the front when our environment beckons them. And other parts, which may not like those earlier parts, indeed which may have been born in order to relegate earlier us, can protest. Leading to a hard time. A really hard time.

And here comes the political bit. “Mononormativity” is a term I’ve used to denote our culture’s preference for monogamy. It harms those of us (almost everybody, it turns out) who can’t perform it comfortably in perpetuity. But Richard Schawtz alerted me to the nonsense of the mononormativity of self. Talking about my parts with my therapist I learned not just that I had many parts, that we all do, but that we are expected not to. The demand to mask this fundamental feature of ourselves is as sharp and mean as is heteronormativity, cisnormativity, whiteness, ableism and a thousand other yet undescribed demands. I’m glad to be this practised at coming out, and at reimagining myself. I won’t be accepting the shade and doubt that will invariably be coming my way. I won’t accept the concern trolling. I won’t accept the pathologisation. I’ll be enjoying myselves from here on in.

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Emma Barnes

Emma Barnes

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Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram